Words by Julian May
The title-track of Orfeo is a version of the Orpheus and Eurydice story dating from the 13th century, via a translation by JRR Tolkien, which mixes Celtic elements with the Greek. The ballad extends over 26 stanzas, and there’s a refrain. It’s beautifully sung, excellently arranged, impressively played, and, above all, interesting. And it’s but one of several delights; this is an album of considerable variety. In ‘The Parson’s Gate’, a priest abandons a wedding to join the hunt. The fiddle, squeezeboxes and banjo capture the jaunty whimsy as fittingly as they do the anger, grief and mystery of ‘The Cuckoo’. You would expect no less: The Hurricane Party, her band, comprises Jon Boden and Sam Sweeney on fiddles and Andy Cutting and Rob Harbron on melodeon and concertina. Martin Simpson, with his guitar and banjo, is a welcome guest.
They complement, and don’t overwhelm, Hield’s voice – rousing in ‘Pretty Nancy’, nuanced in ‘The Weaver’s Daughter’. On the latter, a woman chooses to look after her aged, blind father rather than marry. Hield’s singing of these old songs leaves the listener pondering what will happen next. Has this daughter sacrificed or assured her happiness? How will the mother in ‘Henry’ survive once she has wrung from him his confession? He has killed his sister, pregnant with his child, and must flee into exile. Son, daughter and grandchild all have been lost, in a few lines. This is powerful material. Fay Hield & The Hurricane Party rise to its challenges and serve it well.